Article 166

"Spamalot" still silly, clever fun

Resistance, like calculating the probability of an African swallow migrating a coconut to medieval Britain, is futile.

It's all about weight ratios and the autonomous collective.

"Monty Python's Spamalot," winner of the 2005 Tony Award for best musical and the Grammy for best show album, parked its clever, silly, almost-over-the-top self at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday. The show runs through Sunday.

The audience knew the material cold, breaking into laughter at the first thickly accented words of the vulgar French Taunters and guffawing at the ridiculous, moose-helmeted Knights Who Say Ni and singing along with the Panglossian anthem "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

Jews, gays, the incontinent, Barry Manilow, God, Broadway hits, Christians, the terminally ill, people from Finland - every demographic except blacks, who were sparse as a group in Tuesday's audience - all were subject to merciless parody.

When sadistic Sir Lancelot (Matthew Greer) and fey Prince Herbert (Christopher Sutton) come out of the closet and wed, the gag line is cutting: "Who knew this would still be controversial a thousand years later?"

Wild laughter - and in Cobb County, no less.

Criticisms of "Spamalot" are all valid, but the bounty feels so generous, who cares? The creators sure don't. The musical's clever bits were pinched by Eric Idle and composer John Du Prez straight from its source, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," a cult film made in 1975 when the radically post-modern British comedians quit television for the big screen.

Mike Nichols' original stage direction is seamless - you might call it idiot-proof - except when it's supposed to be self-referential. It's one of the show's appealing attitudes, made plain by the tender and meaningless duet "The Song That Goes Like This." A revolving-door cast does not present any problems.

The musical also pokes fun at its leading man, offering sarcasm about "Dr. Kildare," the 1960s TV drama that shot Richard Chamberlain to pop stardom, of a kind.

Chamberlain, at 74, dropped into "Spamalot" as King Arthur in January and will do the run through mid-April.

He played King Arthur as elderly. His leading-man charisma, tempered baritone and warm smile remain charming, although there's not much spring in his step and his singing voice - never his strong suit, despite chart-toppers 40 years ago - is reedy thin.

And by adding a local reference or two, "Spamalot" tailors its road show for each city. At Tuesday's opening night, a "peasant" named Dan somebody was discovered to have the golden Holy Grail beneath his seat in the audience. I've already forgotten his name, but it was funny at the time.

© 2009 Pierre Ruhe

Richard Chamberlain Online